Is Stress a Claim for a Workers’ Compensation Injury?
No. Stress is causative factor of an injury. Stress is not an injury in and of itself. Stress is the body’s reaction to stimulus. Stress is not a body part. Stress is a condition that impacts various parts of the body and body systems.
Many Injured Workers are under the misconception that they can file a “stress” claim. In fact, there are no “stress” claims. There are, however, body parts or systems, that can been injured due to exposure to “stress.”
“Stress,” simply put, in the workers’ compensation arena, is the mechanism of injury and not the injury. When an Injured Worker is “stressed,” it can effect one’s emotional and/or physical health. It is the stress’ effect on these body parts which is in fact the injury. Therefore, the Workers’ Compensation Injury that would be claimed relating to stress would be a claim of “Psyche,” “Headaches” or “Gastrointestinal Esophageal Reflux.”
Does California accept Stress-Related Work Injuries?
Yes. The State of California even has treatment protocols entitled “Stress Related Conditions.” See California Code of Regulations, Title 8, § 9792.23.8.
What is “Stress?”
Stress is your body’s reaction to events. These events can be real events or they can be perceived events. Usually, stressful events can be a reaction to a harmful situation. In the workplace, this can range from a variety of events. This can include such events as a supervisor yelling at an employee; an incident of workplace violence, or an employee having to deal with a difficult customer.
When people are stressed, it can trigger a chemical reaction in your body that allows you to act in a manner that will prevent injury to yourself. During this reaction, people will have increased heart rate, rapid respiration, tightening of the muscles and a rise in blood pressure.
Stress can cause the release of stress hormones such as cortisol which can have an impact on the body. Human bodies are equipped to handle small doses of stress. Long term Exposure stress can lead to disease.
Each person reacts differently to stress. For example, an extremely stressful event may cause one to have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. To another person, they may not suffer any medical problem as a result.
Stress can have emotional symptoms, it can have physical symptoms, and it can have cognitive effects as well.
Can Stress from working long hours have an impact on health?
Yes. “A growing body of evidence suggests that long working hours adversely affect the health and wellbeing of workers. Studies have associated overtime and extended work schedules with an increased risk of hypertension,1,2 cardiovascular disease,3–9 fatigue,1,10–13 stress,14–17 depression,12,18–20 musculoskeletal disorders,21–23 chronic infections,24 diabetes,25 general health complaints,26–28 and all-cause mortality.29” Occup Environ Med 2005;62:588–597, The impact of overtime and long work hours on occupational injuries and illnesses: new evidence from the United States, A E Dembe, J B Erickson, R G Delbos, S M Banks.
Can Stress Injuries be a Specific Injury or a Cumulative Trauma?
Yes. Stress Injuries can be both. Examples of a specific injury include being a victim of an armed robbery or being in a horrifying car accident. Cumulative trauma injuries include working in very demanding environment with long hours or working in customer service where the person handles many complaints from irate customers.
What Psychiatric Conditions can result from a Stress Injury?
Stress can cause and contribute to a variety of psychiatric conditions. Among those psychiatric conditions include Anxiety Disorders, Depressive Disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders, or Panic Disorders.
What Physical Conditions can result or be aggravated a by Stress Injury?
There is a large variety of disorders that may be affected or caused as a result of stress. These include hypertension, gastrointestinal reflux disease, insomnia, skin conditions, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, temporomandibular joint or TMJ, and muscle tension.
Are there limitations with respect to filing “stress” claims?
Yes. In cases involving purely non-psychiatric injuries, the cause of the injury cannot be the sole result of a good faith non-discriminatory personnel action. See County of San Bernardino v. W.C.A.B. (McCoy) (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 1469.
In psychiatric injuries, there are multiple standards and limitations that are applicable. First, the psychiatric injury must have been caused by actual events of employment that are predominant as to all causes combined of the psychiatric injury. In sum, there is the threshold for general workers’ compensation cases of the predominant cause (greater than 50 percent). The exception of injuries resulted from being a victim of a violent act or from direct exposure to a significant violent act, the employee shall be required to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that actual events of employment were a substantial cause of the injury (35-40 percent.)
For psychiatric injuries, there is a defense of “good faith personnel action.” Therefore, if the psychiatric injury was substantially caused by a lawful, nondiscriminatory, good faith personnel action, the claim will not be considered compensable. This defense applies to the psychiatric component. Physical Injury claims may still be viable.
Also, there are some time requirements as well. For many Psychiatric Injuries, there is a time requirement to be eligible. For most cases, there is a six-month employment requirement to claim a psychiatric requirement. The exception to this time requirement is whether the psychiatric injury is caused by a sudden and extraordinary employment condition. See Labor Code Section 3208.3.
If I am considering filing a “Stress Claim,” should I consult an attorney?
Yes. A knowledgeable attorney can provide a proper analysis as to whether such a claim is viable and should be pursued. There are times upon which I have recommended against filing a “stress” claim based upon the facts. “Stress Claims” can be emotionally demanding upon the injured worker pursuing one. They must be prepared in order to pursue the matter properly.
If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation law, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.
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